A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen – Feature, Excerpt and Author Q&A

Publisher: MIRA Books

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopia

Buy Links:

Harlequin| Amazon| Barnes & Noble| Books-a-Million| IndieBound| Apple Books| Kobo| Google Play

I am so excited to feature A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen today on my blog! Plus a few extras to go along with it! Check out an excerpt and a Q&A with the author below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!

An emotional story about what happens after the end of the world, A BEGINNING AT THE END is a tale of four survivors trying to rebuild their personal lives after a literal apocalypse. For commercial readers who enjoy a speculative twist, or their sci-fi with a heavy dose of family and feelings.

Six years after a global pandemic, it turns out that the End of the World was more like a big pause. Coming out of quarantine, 2 billion unsure survivors split between self-governing big cities, hippie communes, and wasteland gangs. When the father of a presumed-dead pop star announces a global search for his daughter, four lives collide: Krista, a cynical event planner; Moira, the ex-pop star in hiding; Rob, a widowed single father; and Sunny, his seven-year-old daughter. As their lives begin to intertwine, reports of a new outbreak send the fragile society into a panic. And when the government enacts new rules in response to the threat, long-buried secrets surface, causing Sunny to run away seeking the truth behind her mother’s death. Now, Krista, Rob, and Moira must finally confront the demons of their past in order to hit the road and reunite with Sunny — before a coastal lockdown puts the world on pause again.”

Q: Parent characters are a large part of A Beginning at the End. Did you know your character’s family backgrounds before you began? How do the characters take form in your writing process?

A: Somewhat. Usually the core problem comes first in my drafting process. I tend to write in layers and my initial drafts are always very light — initial scenes may only be about ¼ of their final length because I don’t know the characters too well yet. At that stage, I’m trying to find the main conflict of the scene and the voice for their characters. I typically need 5-7 passes through a book to turn it from a 45k-50k word skeleton to a reasonably polished 90-100k word draft. During that time, the characters start to form.

As an example, my current work in progress (which will be released after 2021’s upcoming WE COULD BE HEROES), I’m on my third pass through for the first act and only now am I beginning to understand each character’s unique voice as well as their physical appearances. Core conflicts (such as character X has trouble with character Y) are established during the initial outline phase as part of the initial concept, but the how and why those conflicts happen (Is it family history? Is it a traumatic event? Is it sibling rivalry?), that takes a little longer to establish. 

For the characters in A BEGINNING AT THE END, I started out immediately knowing what drove Krista and Rob. Moira didn’t really become fully three-dimensional until much later, and in fact in early revisions, she was just a minor supporting character. My agent noted that she was far too interesting to push to the side, so the book was rebuilt around her to hold equal footing to Rob and Krista.

Q: Where did you take inspiration for this pandemic? Do you have any other book or film recommendations?

A: Though it wasn’t a direct inspiration for this book, there’s a scene in the second season of The Walking Dead that began the train of thought for A BEGINNING AT THE END. It was the season on Hershel’s farm, and there’s a scene where Lori is trying to go over homework with her son Carl. A lot of viewers mocked the scene at the time with comments like “Why would you do math in the zombie apocalypse?” but I thought that was a smart bit of human grounding against a fantastical backdrop. Because those characters didn’t know if and when the apocalypse would end, and I think it makes sense that 1) a mom would try to keep some form of normalcy for her son 2) they wouldn’t just assume the world was completely over.

Because a lot of apocalyptic fiction focuses on either the event itself or a grimdark survival world, that scene sparked a lot of ideas for me — what if society did crawl back from the brink, and instead of a true “end of the world” it was more like a big pause button? Then all these people would move past day-to-day survival and suddenly have a lot of trauma to unpack, and i hadn’t really seen that covered much at the time. That seemed really interesting to me, much more so than the idea of tribal factions attacking each other to survive.

Q: Which main character is your favorite? And which was the hardest to write?

A: It’s been interesting seeing early reader feedback because the “favorite character” opinion has been pretty evenly split. I think that’s a good sign that things are pretty balanced. For me personally, I always viewed Krista as the main character in this book and it was originally written with her to be the main focus (the original draft of this from 2011ish only had her POV and Rob’s POV). She has such a snappy voice that it’s just fun to write her responses and reactions to stuff, and a big challenge came from cutting out unnecessary dialogue that made it in there simply because she was so fun to write.

The hardest character to write was definitely Sunny. Simply because I needed to get into the head of a seven-year-old. Her POV was one of the last major structural changes my agent recommended before we sold this to my publisher and it was tricky my daughter was still very young at that point (she’s still only five). I ran those chapters by my friends who had survived parenting those years for accuracy: complexity of thought, vocabulary, rhythm, etc.

Q: Your characters struggle with confronting their past while their future is so uncertain. What are some important lessons you’ve learned as a writer that you previously struggled with?

A: I think the keys to success as a writer are also keys to a happy and fulfilled life: don’t give up and keep an open mind. Every writer I know that started around my time eventually broke through and got an agent by improving their craft through feedback and simply chipping away. If one book wasn’t good enough, then it got shelved as a stepping stone and they marched forward. Doing that requires a certain amount of humility because it recognizes that you’ve got room to improve, and that improvement is going to come from listening to others rather than being defensive. Those are hard lessons to learn so I try to tell new writers that right away, so they understand the value of harsh-but-true constructive criticism from critique partners — you’ll never make it without that.

Q: What is a genre you don’t think you’d ever write? A Beginning at the End and Here and Now and Then are both SF, do you think you would ever write something that’s vastly different? What draws you to SF?

A: Writing character-driven stories in sci-fi settings comes pretty naturally to me, as it takes my favorite type of story (slice of life) and my favorite genre and brings them together. I’m fortunate that the market has turned around on that now to support books like mine. If I wrote something different, I imagine it would lean further in one direction or another — either a contemporary drama or space opera. I am also a big fan of gothic horror, and I would love to try a haunted house story at some point.

As for what draws me to sci-fi, I can’t put my finger on it but it’s been really important to me my entire life. I grew up on Star Wars and Robotech as cornerstones of my media influences. At the same time, I’ve never really been too into fantasy despite them often being opposite sides of the same coin. My wife loves both sci-fi and fantasy, and there are things she loves that I just can’t get into like The Elder Scrolls.

Q: What are some of your writing goals for the future?

A: Keep writing and not run out of ideas! In a perfect world, I’d love to be able to be a full-time author — which is basically 50% writing and 50% the business of being an author. I don’t think that’s feasible since I live in Silicon Valley and need health insurance for a family situation, so I will likely always have one foot in corporate life unless the political landscape changes regarding medical care.

An obvious dream would be to have one of my books be adapted to a movie or TV series — I’m of the mindset that HERE AND NOW AND THEM would work as a movie while A BEGINNING AT THE END has a deep enough world that it would work well as a TV series. I really want to try writing a video game, something like Telltale’s games. And I would love to write for my favorite franchises: Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. I’ve been pretty vocal about Clone Wars-era story ideas, and I’m friends with several authors on the Lucasfilm roster, so fingers crossed.

Q: If there was a global disaster in the future, what would your plan of action be?

A: Well, I have a bunch of animals and family health issues, so I’d say we’d be pretty screwed. I’m pretty organized and have a diplomatic approach, so hopefully that would earn me an in with some survivalists until society stabilizes.

Q: Both of your books, Here and Now and Then & A Beginning at the End, have a strong emotional foundation. Why did you choose that route?

A: It goes back to my favorite types of stories. To me, the emotional core is always the most important part of any story; it turns it from being surface level entertainment to something that resonates deeper.

Q: How has the success of your first novel affected your writing process for your second novel? Is there anything the first time around you did, that you didn’t do the second time?

A: I am lucky that A BEGINNING AT THE END was mostly finished when we sold it because it had been a project I’d shelved years ago but revised with my agent. I had a complete and fairly polished manuscript, and my editors revisions didn’t affect much of the structure, they were mostly about tightening and adding more flashbacks, more world-building. So in that regard, that process was very similar to HERE AND NOW AND THEN.

However, having now experienced deadlines and commitments on top of a day job and parenting, the biggest change is that I draft by acts rather than the whole thing. For books 3 (WE COULD BE HEROES) and 4 (in WIP stages), I drafted a first act to get a sense of characters and world, then sent that to a few critique partners for their input before investing further energy into it. There’s just no time. Also, I have to limit myself on reading for fun or video games because that time has to be used for writing and editing. Being published is a great privilege but its time demands do create numerous sacrifices.

Q: How do you balance being a reader and being a writer? 

A: I use my phone a lot! I’ve discovered audiobooks, though my preferred method right now is ebooks through Google Play. Their app has a text-to-speech feature which, while nowhere near the quality of real audiobooks, allow me to listen while I’m commuting or doing dishes or whatever, but then also allow me to switch back to reading in the app when I want to. It’s funny, I just don’t read physical books that much now because my time is so compartmentalized that having it available on my phone is the best way to go. 

The great irony about this is that as I’ve gotten to know more authors, agents, and editors, I’m often offered advance review copies by authors I really love and I simply have no time for them.

Q: What does literary success look like to you and with that definition in mind, are you successful? 

A: This is tricky because I think all authors at all stages are looking up at someone and mentally comparing sales and awards. I know I’m doing better than some of my peers and worse than others, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past year is that it is totally okay to be happy for someone while also jealous of their success. In fact, that is 100% normal.

With that in mind, I think success means that I’m selling enough copies to get the next contract and a chance to audition for licensed franchise work. Aspiring for bestseller status or awards is kind of silly because so many other factors go into that, many of which (marketing budgets, publicity selections) are simply out of your control. But if you keep producing at a high level of quality, I think you’ll be able to gradually grow your readership with each book, and that’s good enough for me.

Also, it’s really cool to hear your book has touched a reader. That level of engagement is always a good measure of success. 

Q: Finally, for you, what makes a book a good book?

A: I think the things that I always look for are interesting characters, emotional conflicts, and good prose. While I appreciate great action scenes or immense worldbuilding, I can often overlook those things if characters, emotions, and prose are all clicking. On the other hand, if I lose any of those main three, I’ll often have to drop a book, even if, say, the worldbuilding is amazing.

Shameless shoutout to some friends: if you want impeccable examples of ALL of those (characters, emotions, prose, action, and worldbuilding), I suggest Fonda Lee’s JADE CITY / JADE WAR and Kat Howard’s AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS.

Prologue

People were too scared for music tonight. Not that MoJo cared.

Her handlers had broken the news about the low attendance nearly an hour ago with some explanation about how the recent flu epidemic and subsequent rioting and looting kept people at home. They’d served the news with high-end vodka, the good shit imported from Russia, conveniently hidden in a water bottle which she carried from the greenroom to the stage.

“The show must go on,” her father proclaimed, like she was doing humanity a service by performing. She suspected his bravado actually stemmed from the fact that her sophomore album’s second single had stalled at number thirteen—a far cry from the lead single’s number-one debut or her four straight top-five hits off her first album. Either way, the audience, filled with beaming girls a few years younger than herself and their mothers, seemed to agree. Flu or no flu, some people still wanted their songs—or maybe they just wanted normalcy—so MoJo delivered, perfect note after perfect note, each in time to choreographed dance routines. She even gave her trademark smile.

The crowd screamed and sang along, waving their arms to the beat. Halfway through the second song, a peculiar vibe grabbed the audience. Usually, a handful of parents disappeared into their phones, especially as the flu scare had heightened over the past week. This time nearly every adult in the arena was looking at their phone. In the front row, MoJo saw lines of concern on each face.

Before the song even finished, some parents grabbed their children and left, pushing through the arena’s floor seats and funneling to the exit door.

MoJo pushed on, just like she’d always promised her dad. She practically heard his voice over the backup music blasting in her in-ear monitors. There is no sophomore slump. Smile! Between the second and third songs, she gave her customary “Thank you!” and fake talk about how great it was to be wherever they were. New York City, this time, at Madison Square Garden. A girl of nineteen embarking on a tour bigger, more ambitious than she could have ever dreamed and taking the pop world by storm, and yet, she knew nothing real about New York City. She’d never left her hotel room without chaperones and handlers. Not under her dad’s watch.

One long swig of vodka later, and a warmth rushed to her face, so much so that she wondered if it melted her face paint off. She looked off at the side stage, past the elaborate video set and cadre of backup dancers. But where was the gaffer? Why wasn’t anyone at the sound board? The fourth song had a violin section, yet the contracted violinist wasn’t in her spot.

Panic raced through MoJo’s veins, mental checklists of her marks, all trailed by echoes from her dad’s lectures about accountability. Her feet were planted exactly where they should be. Her poise, straight and high. Her last few notes, on key, and her words to the audience, cheerful. It couldn’t have been something she’d done, could it?

No. Not her fault this time. Someone else is facing Dad’s wrath tonight, she thought.

The next song’s opening electronic beats kicked in. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and arms up, her voice pushed out the song’s highest note, despite the fuzziness of the vodka making the vibrato a little harder to sustain. For a few seconds, nothing existed except the sound of her voice and the music behind it— no handlers, no tour, no audience, no record company, no father telling her the next way she’d earn the family fortune—and it almost made the whole thing worth it.

Her eyes opened, body coiled for the middle-eight’s dance routine, but the brightness of the house lights threw her off the beat. The drummer and keyboard player stopped, though the prerecorded backing track continued for a few more seconds before leaving an echo chamber.

No applause. No eyes looked MoJo’s way. Only random yelling and an undecipherable buzz saw of backstage clamor from her in-ear monitors. She stood, frozen, unable to tell if this was from laced vodka or if it was actually unfolding: people—adults and children, parents and daughters— scrambling to the exits, climbing over chairs and tripping on stairs, ushers pushing back at the masses before some turned and ran as well.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked back hard. “We have to go,” said the voice behind her.

“What’s going on?” she asked, allowing the hands to push her toward the stage exit. Steven, her huge forty-something bodyguard, took her by the arm and helped her down the short staircase to the backstage area.

“The flu’s spread,” he said. “A government quarantine. There’s some sort of lockdown on travel. The busing starts tonight. First come, first serve. I think everyone’s trying to get home or get there. I can’t reach your father. Cell phones are jammed up.”

They worked their way through the concrete hallways and industrial lighting of the backstage area, people crossing in a mad scramble left and right. MoJo clutched onto her bottle of vodka, both hands to her chest as Steven ushered her onward. People collapsed in front of her, crying, tripping on their own anxieties, and Steven shoved her around them, apologizing all the way. Something draped over her shoulders, and it took her a moment to realize that he’d put a thick parka around her. She chuckled at the thought of her sparkly halter top and leather pants wrapped in a down parka that smelled like BO, but Steven kept pushing her forward, forward, forward until they hit a set of double doors.

The doors flew open, but rather than the arena’s quiet loading area from a few hours ago, MoJo saw a thick wall of people: all ages and all colors in a current of movement, pushing back and forth. “I’ve got your dad on the line,” Steven yelled over the din, “His car is that way. He wants to get to the airport now. Same thing’s happening back home.” His arm stretched out over her head. “That way! Go!”

They moved as a pair, Steven yelling “excuse me” over and over until the crowd became too dense to overcome. In front of her, a woman with wisps of gray woven into black hair trembled on her knees. Even with the racket around them, MoJo heard her cry. “This is the end. This is the end.”

The end.

People had been making cracks about the End of the World since the flu changed from online rumors to this big thing that everyone talked about all the time. But she’d always figured the “end” meant a giant pit opening, Satan ushering everyone down a staircase to Hell. Not stuck outside Madison Square Garden.

“Hey,” Steven yelled, arms spread out to clear a path through the traffic jam of bodies. “This way!”

MoJo looked at the sobbing woman in front of her, then at Steven. Somewhere further down the road, her father sat in a car and waited. She could feel his pull, an invisible tether that never let her get too far away.

“The end, the end,” the sobbing woman repeated, pausing MoJo in her tracks. But where to go? Every direction just pointed at more chaos, people scrambling with a panic that had overtaken everyone in the loading dock, possibly the neighborhood, possibly all New York City, possibly even the world. And it wasn’t just about a flu.

It was everything.

But… maybe that was good?

No more tours. No more studio sessions. No more threats about financial security, no more lawyer meetings, no more searches through her luggage. No more worrying about hitting every mark. In the studio. Onstage.

In life.

All of that was done.

The very thought caused MoJo to smirk.

If this was the end, then she was going out on her own terms.

“Steven!” she yelled. He turned and met her gaze.

She twisted the cap off the water-turned-vodka bottle, then took most of it down in one long gulp. She poured the remainder on her face paint, a star around her left eye, then wiped it off with her sleeve. The empty bottle flew through the air, probably hitting some poor bloke in the head.

“Tell my dad,” she said, trying extra hard to pronounce the words with the clear British diction she was raised with, “to go fuck himself.”

For an instant, she caught Steven’s widemouthed look, a mix of fear and confusion and disappointment on his face, as though her words crushed his worldview more than the madness around them. But MoJo wouldn’t let herself revel in her first, possibly only victory over her father; she ducked and turned quickly, parka pulled over her head, crushing the product-molded spikes in her hair.

Each step pushing forward, shoulders and arms bumping into her as her eyes locked onto the ground, one step at a time. Left, right, left, then right, all as fast as she could go, screams and car horns and smashing glass building in a wave of desperation around her.

Maybe it was the end. But even though her head was down, she walked with dignity for the first time in years, perhaps ever.Excerpted from A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2020 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

The Little Bookshop on the Seine (The Little Paris Collection, #1) by Rebecca Raisin – Book Feature and Excerpt

Publisher: HQN

Publication Date: January 07, 2020 (Originally published Oct. 16, 2015)

Genre: Romance, Fiction, Contemporary

Buy Links: Harlequin |Indiebound |Amazon|Barnes & Noble |Books-A-Million|Target |Walmart|Google|iBooks|Kobo

I am very excited to share an excerpt from The Little Bookshop on the Seine! A book about love and books in Paris is my kind of read! Hope you enjoy!

It’s The Holiday on the Champs-Élysées in a great big love letter to Paris, charming old bookstores and happily-ever-afters!

When bookshop owner Sarah Smith is offered the opportunity for a job exchange with her Parisian friend Sophie, saying yes is a no-brainer—after all, what kind of romantic would turn down six months in Paris? Sarah is sure she’s in for the experience of a lifetime—days spent surrounded by literature in a gorgeous bookshop, and the chance to watch the snow fall on the Eiffel Tower. Plus, now she can meet up with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge, when his job takes him around the globe.

But her expectations cool faster than her café au lait soon after she lands in the City of Light—she’s a fish out of water in Paris. The customers are rude, her new coworkers suspicious and her relationship with Ridge has been reduced to a long-distance game of phone tag, leaving Sarah to wonder if he’ll ever put her first over his busy career. As Christmas approaches, Sarah is determined to get the shop—and her life—back in order…and make her dreams of a Parisian happily-ever-after come true. “

CHAPTER ONE

October 

With a heavy heart I placed the sign in the display window. 

All books 50% off. 

If things didn’t pick up soon, it would read Closing down sale. The thought alone was enough to make me shiver. The autumnal sky was awash with purples and smudges of orange, as I stepped outside to survey the display window from the sidewalk. 

Star-shaped leaves crunched underfoot. I forced a smile. A sale wouldn’t hurt, and maybe it’d take the bookshop figures from the red into the black—which I so desperately needed. My rent had been hiked up. The owner of the building, a sharp-featured, silver-tongued, forty-something man, had put the pressure on me lately—to pay more, to declutter the shop, claiming the haphazard stacks of books were a fire risk. The additional rent stretched the budget to breaking level. Something had to change.

The phone shrilled, and a grin split my face. It could only be Ridge at this time of the morning. Even after being together almost a year his name still provoked a giggle. It suited him though, the veritable man mountain he was. I’d since met his mom, a sweet, well-spoken lady, who claimed in dulcet tones, that she chose his name well before his famous namesake in The Bold and the Beautiful. In fact, she was adamant about it, and said the TV character Ridge was no match for her son. I had to agree. Sure, they both had chiseled movie star cheekbones, and an intense gaze that made many a woman swoon, but my guy was more than just the sum of his parts—I loved him for his mind, as much as his clichéd six-pack, and broody hotness. And even better, he loved me for me.

He was the hero in my own real-life love story, and due back from Canada the next day. It’d been weeks since I’d seen him, and I ached for him in a way that made me blush.

I dashed inside, and answered the phone, breathlessly. “The Bookshop on the Corner.”

“That’s the voice I know and love,” he said in his rich, husky tone. My heart fluttered, picturing him at the end of the line, his jet-black hair and flirty blue eyes. He simply had to flick me a look loaded with suggestion, and I’d be jelly-legged and lovestruck.

“What are you wearing?” he said.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I held back a laugh, eager to drag it out. So far our relationship had been more long-distance than anticipated, as he flew around the world reporting on location. The stints apart left an ache in my heart, a numbness to my days. Luckily I had my books, and a sweeping romance or two helped keep the loneliness at bay.

“Tell me or I’ll be forced to Skype you and see for myself.”

Glancing down at my outfit, I grimaced: black tights, a black pencil skirt, and a pilled blue knit sweater, all as old as the hills of Ashford. Not exactly the type of answer Ridge was waiting for, or the way I wanted him to picture me, after so many weeks apart. “Those stockings you like, and…”

His voice returned with a growl. “Those stockings? With the little suspenders?”

I sat back into the chair behind the counter, fussing with my bangs. “The very same.”

He groaned. “You’re killing me. Take a photo…”

“There’s no need. If you’re good, I’ll wear the red ones tomorrow night.” I grinned wickedly. Our reunions were always passionate affairs; he was a hands-on type of guy. Lucky for him, because it took a certain type of man to drag me from the pages of my books. When he was home we didn’t surface until one of us had to go to work. Loving Ridge had been a revelation, especially in the bedroom, where he took things achingly slow, drawing out every second. I flushed with desire for him.

There was a muffled voice and the low buzz of phones ringing. Ridge mumbled to someone before saying, “About tomorrow…” He petered out, regret in each syllable.

I closed my eyes. “You’re not coming, are you?” I tried not to sigh, but it spilled out regardless. The lure of a bigger, better story was too much for him to resist, and lately the gaps between our visits grew wider. I understood his work was important, but I wanted him all to myself. A permanent fixture in the small town I lived in.

He tutted. “I’m sorry, baby. There’s a story breaking in

Indonesia, and I have to go. It’ll only be for a week or two, and then I’ll take some time off.”

Outside, leaves fluttered slowly from the oak tree, swaying softly, until they fell to the ground. I wasn’t the nagging girlfriend sort—times like this though, I was tempted to be. Ridge had said the very same thing the last three times he’d canceled a visit. But invariably someone would call and ask Ridge to head to the next location; any time off would be cut short.

“I understand,” I said, trying to keep my voice bright. Sometimes I felt like I played a never-ending waiting game. Would it always be like this? “Just so you know, I have a very hot date this afternoon.”

He gasped. “You better be talking about a fictional date.” His tone was playful, but underneath there was a touch of jealousy to it. Maybe it was just as hard on him, being apart.

“One very hot book boyfriend…though not as delectable as my real boyfriend—but a stand-in, until he returns.”

“Well, he better not keep you up half the night, or he’ll have me to answer to,” he faux threatened, and then said more seriously, “Things will slow down, Sarah. I want to be with you so much my soul hurts. But right now, while I’m freelance, I have to take whatever comes my way.”

“I know. I just feel a bit lost sometimes. Like someone’s hit pause, and I’m frozen on the spot.” I bit my lip, trying to work out how to explain it. “It’s not just missing you—I do understand about your job—it’s…everything. The bookshop sales dwindling, the rent jacked up, everyone going on about their business, while I’m still the same old Sarah.”

I’d been at this very crossroad when I’d met Ridge, and he’d swept me off my feet, like the ultimate romance hero. For a while that had been enough. After all, wasn’t love always the answer? Romance aside, life was a little stagnant, and I knew it was because of my fear of change. It wasn’t so

much that I had to step from behind the covers of my books, rather plunge, perhaps. Take life by the scruff of the neck and shake it. But how?

“You’ve had a rough few weeks. That’s all. I’ll be back soon, and I’m sure there’s something I can do to make you forget everything…”

My belly flip-flopped at the thought. He would make me forget everything that was outside that bedroom door, but then he’d leave and it would all tumble back.

What exactly was I searching for? My friends were getting married and having babies. Buying houses and redecorating. Starting businesses. My life had stalled. I was an introvert, happiest hiding in the shadows of my shop, reading romances to laze the day away, between serving the odd customer or two—yet, it wasn’t enough. In small-town Connecticut, there wasn’t a lot to do. And life here—calm, peaceful—was fine, but that’s just it, fine wasn’t enough anymore. I had this fear that life was passing me by because I was too timid to take the reins.

It was too hazy a notion of what I was trying to say, even to me. Instead of lumping Ridge with it, I changed tack. “I hope you know, you’re not leaving the house when you get home. Phones will be switched to silent, computers forgotten, and the only time we’re leaving the comfort of bed is when I need sustenance.” A good romp around the bedroom would suffice until I could pinpoint what it was that I wanted.

“How about I sort out the sustenance?” he said, his voice heavy with desire. “And then we’ll never have to leave.”

“Promises, promises,” I said, my breath hitching. I hoped this flash of longing would never wane, the sweet torture of anticipation.

“I have to go, baby. I’ll call you tonight if it’s not too late once I’m in.”

“Definitely call tonight! Otherwise, I can’t guarantee the book boyfriend won’t steal your girlfriend. He’s pretty hot, I’ll have you know.”

“Why am I jealous of a fictional character?” He laughed, a low, sexy sound. “OK, tonight. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

He hung up, leaving me dazed, and a touch lonely knowing that I wouldn’t see him the next day as planned.

I tried to shake the image of Ridge from my mind. If anyone walked in, they’d see the warm blush of my cheeks, and know exactly what I was thinking. Damn the man for being so attractive, and so effortlessly sexy.

Shortly, the sleepy town of Ashford would wake under the gauzy light of October skies. Signs would be flipped to open, stoops swept, locals would amble down the road. Some would step into the bookshop and out of the cold, and spend their morning with hands wrapped around a mug of steaming hot tea, and reading in any one of the cozy nooks around the labyrinth-like shop.

I loved having a place for customers to languish. Comfort was key, and if you had a good book and a hot drink, what else could you possibly need to make your day any brighter? Throw rugs and cushions were littered around seating areas. Coats would be swiftly hung on hooks, a chair found, knitted blankets pulled across knees, and their next hour or two spent, in the most relaxing of ways.

I wandered around the shop, feather duster in hand, tickling the covers, waking them from slumber. I’m sure as soon as my back was turned, the books wiggled and winked at one another, as if they were eager for the day to begin, for fingers of hazy sunlight to filter through and land on them like spotlights, as if saying, here’s the book for you.

Imagine if I had to close up for good, like so many other shops had in recent times? It pained me to think people were missing out on the real-life bookshop experience. Wasn’t it much better when you could step into a dimly lit space, and eke your way around searching for the right novel? You could run a fingertip along the spines, smell that glorious old book scent, flick them open, and unbend a dog-eared page. Read someone else’s notes in the margin, or a highlighted passage, and see why that sentence or metaphor had dazzled the previous owner.

Secondhand books had so much life in them. They’d lived, sometimes in many homes, or maybe just one. They’d been on airplanes, traveled to sunny beaches, or crowded into a backpack and taken high up a mountain where the air thinned.

Some had been held aloft tepid rose-scented baths, and thickened and warped with moisture. Others had childlike scrawls on the acknowledgment page, little fingers looking for a blank space to leave their mark. Then there were the pristine novels, ones that had been read carefully, bookmarks used, almost like their owner barely pried the pages open so loath were they to damage their treasure.

I loved them all.

Excerpted from The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin. Copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Raisin. Published by HQN Books.

Rebecca Raisin is the author of several novels, including the beloved Little Paris series and the Gingerbread Café trilogy, and her short stories have been published in various anthologies and fiction magazines. You can follow Rebecca on Facebook, and at http://www.rebeccaraisin.com

Cowboy Christmas Redemption (Gold Valley, #8) by Maisey Yates – Book Feature and Excerpt

Publisher: HQN Books

Publication Date: September 24, 2019

Genre: Romance, Holiday, Contemporary

Amazon

As snowflakes fall in Gold Valley, Oregon, will this rugged cowboy finally win the woman of his dreams?

Cowboy Caleb Dalton has loved single mom Ellie Bell, and her little daughter, Amelia, for years. But since Ellie is his best friend’s widow, Caleb’s head knows Ellie will always be strictly off-limits. If only his heart got the memo. So when Caleb discovers that Ellie has a Christmas wish list—and hopes for a kiss under the mistletoe—he’s throwing his cowboy hat into the ring. If anyone’s going to be kissing Ellie and sharing this magical time with her and her daughter, it’s him.

Ellie has dreaded the holidays since losing her husband. But this year, she’s finally ready to make some changes. She never expects the biggest change to be the heart-stopping kiss she shares with Caleb. For almost five years, Caleb has been her best friend, her rock, her salvation. This Christmas, can Caleb prove he’s also the missing puzzle piece of Ellie’s and Amelia’s hearts? “

I’ve got another really great Christmas book feature and excerpt again today! This sounds so cute and the perfect read for Christmas. This just feel like it would give you all the warm fuzzy feelings!

From Chapter Two

Caleb Dalton hadn’t had much to smile about for a long time. It had been a bear of a few years, since his best friend’s death, and while time might ease a wound, it wouldn’t ever bring Clint back.
But that permanence made space for movement, around the grief, around the pain. And finally toward a future he’d been planning for a long time.
Clint had been, honest to God, one of the best men on earth. The hole he’d left behind had been huge, and Caleb had dedicated himself to caring for his friend’s widow and child in his absence.
That had been his life, his whole life, for nearly five years. And it was fair, because it had been Ellie’s life, too.
He cared for Ellie. A hell of a lot. He’d met her because of Clint, but she’d been in his life now for more than ten years.
His feelings for Ellie were complicated. Had been from the beginning. But she’d been with Clint. And there was no doubt Clint was the better man. More than that, Clint was his brother. Maybe not in blood,
but in every way that counted.
Caleb had never claimed to be a perfect friend. Clint was one of those people who’d drawn everyone right to him. He was easy to like. Caleb’s own parents had been bowled over by Clint from the time they
were kids.
And Caleb’s jealousy had gotten the better of him once when they’d been younger. Something that made him burn with shame even now.
He hadn’t let it happen when they’d been adults. No matter how tempting it had been. No matter how much he’d…
A muscle in his jaw ticked.
He gave thanks that there was a space in front of the Gold Valley Saloon, and he whipped his truck there up against the curb, ignoring the honk that came from behind him.
He turned around and saw Trevor Sanderson in his Chevy, giving Caleb the death glare.
“Hold your damn horses, Trevor,” he muttered as he put his truck in Park.
He should have been quicker.
Hell, that was life in a nutshell. Sometimes, you were just too late. For parking spots, and for women.
He’d tried to get that image out of his head. More times than he could count over the past decade.
Had tried to erase that first time he’d seen Ellie.
It was at his parents’ barbecue. Late one summer afternoon.
He’d been talking and laughing with his brothers, and he’d lifted a beer to his lips and looked out away from the party. Then he’d frozen.
It was like the world had slowed down, all of it centering on the beautiful blonde walking toward him.
The golden light from the sun illuminated her hair like a halo, and her smile seemed to light him up from the inside out.
As she’d gotten closer, he’d taken in every last detail. The way the left side of her cheek dimpled with that grin; her eyes, a mix of green and blue and a punch in the gut. Her lips were glossy pink, and he wondered if it was that stuff that women wore that smelled and tasted like cherries. He couldn’t decide if he hoped that it was or not.

Twenty years old, more experienced with women than he probably should be, and ready right then and there to drop down to his knees and propose marriage to the one walking in his direction.
It took him a full minute to realize that the beautiful blonde was holding hands with someone.
And that that someone was Caleb’s best friend on earth.
It was a surreal moment. It had been a sea change in his soul. When his feelings for Ellie had tipped over from nothing to everything.
A revelation he hadn’t been looking for, and one he sure as hell hadn’t enjoyed.
It was like the whole world had turned, then bucked, like a particularly nasty-ass bull, and left him sprawled out on the ground.
It had been the beginning of a thorny, painful set of years. As he’d gotten to know Ellie, as his feelings for her had become knit deep into his heart, into his soul. She’d become more than his friend’s woman, and more than a woman he’d desired. She’d become a friend to him.
In many ways he was thankful for the depth of the feeling, because it was the reason he’d been able to put aside the lust. The idea that he’d fallen in love with her at first sight.
When Clint had first started dating her, she’d been in school, so she hadn’t been around all the time. But during the summers, and on breaks, she came around with Clint.
Went to the lake with them. Went fishing. Came to Christmas and Thanksgiving.
The summers at the lake, though, that had been a particular kind of torture. All of them swimming out in the water, her and her swimsuit. A tiny bikini that had left little to the imagination.
And he had been so very interested in imagining all the things that it did conceal.
And he’d felt like the biggest, most perverse asshole.
Then there had been the time that Clint had asked him to take her out riding. Just the two of them.
Because Clint trusted him. Of course he did. Why wouldn’t he trust his best friend? So he’d done it.
Had taken her out on the trails that wound behind the Dalton family property, up to the top of a mountain. And he looked over at the view with her, watched the sunset. And everything in him had wanted to lean over and kiss her on the mouth. To act on the feelings that were rioting through his chest.
For just a breath she’d looked back at him, met his eyes. And he’d thought maybe she’d wanted it, too.
Yeah, it would have exploded his relationship with Clint, but for a minute it seemed like it might be worth it.
Then she’d looked away. And then he’d come back to himself.
Clint was his brother. In every way but blood.
And he couldn’t betray his friend like that.
Anyway, Ellie loved Clint.
She didn’t love Caleb.
And no matter how much he might not want to, he had to respect that.
So he hadn’t kissed her. They had ridden back down that mountain, and nothing happened between them. But late at night, Caleb had taken himself in hand and fantasized that it had.
Two days later Clint and Ellie had been engaged.
Caleb had agreed to be the best man.
She’d married Clint. And while his feelings for her had remained, they’d shifted. As they’d had to.
He wasn’t perfect. He’d never touched Ellie. Not like a man touched a woman, though that hadn’t stopped him from going over the accidental brush of fingertips, of their elbows touching, over and over
in his mind if it had happened on accident.

It hadn’t stopped him from keeping and cherishing secrets with her, even when he knew he shouldn’t. Hadn’t stopped him from pushing some boundaries that not even Ellie had realized he’d been
pushing at.
Ellie was the one who’d realized, for the first time, that he was dyslexic. And he’d sworn her to secrecy. And in that secrecy had come secret reading lessons.
And he’d…well, he’d lost control of his own feelings again. And once he’d recognized that, he’d cut them off. Cut her off.
But then Clint had died, just a month later. And everything changed again.
Since then, his relationship with Ellie was about their coming together to try and fill the gap Clint had left behind. His helping where she needed it.
Helping with the house, with her grief, with Amelia.
That was all.


Excerpted from Christmas Cowboy Redemption by Maisey Yates, Copyright © 2019 by Maisey Yates. Published by HQN Books.

New York Times Bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her
three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make
her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee
maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit.

Social Links:
Author Website
Twitter: @maiseyyates
Facebook:@MaiseyYates.Author
Instagram: @maiseyyates
Goodreads

Christmas from the Heart by Sheila Roberts – Feature and Excerpt

Publisher: Mira books

Publication Date: September 24, 2019

Genre: Romance, Holiday, Contemporary

Amazon

USA TODAY bestselling author Sheila Roberts takes readers to the charming, snowbound town of Pine River in this irresistible holiday romance.

Sometimes you need to look beyond the big picture to see what really matters

Olivia Berg’s charity, Christmas from the Heart, has helped generations of families in need in Pine River, Washington, but this year might be the end of the road. Hightower Enterprises, one of their biggest donors since way back when Olivia’s grandmother ran the charity, has been taken over by Ebenezer Scrooge the Second, aka CFO Guy Hightower, and he’s declared there will be no more money coming to Christmas from the Heart.

Guy is simply being practical. Hightower Enterprises needs to tighten its belt, and when you don’t have money to spare, you don’t have money to share. You’d think even the pushy Olivia Berg could understand that.

With charitable donations dwindling, Olivia’s Christmas budget depends on Hightower’s contribution. She’s focused her whole life on helping this small town, even putting her love life on hold to support her mission.

When Guy’s Maserati breaks down at the edge of the Cascade foothills, he’s relieved to be rescued by a pretty young woman who drives him to the nearby town of Pine River. Until he realizes his rescuer is none other than Olivia Berg. What’s a Scrooge to do? Plug his nose and eat fruitcake and hope she doesn’t learn his true identity before he can get out of town. What could go wrong?”

I am very excited to be featuring Christmas from the Heart and I get to share an excerpt! It already sounds so good. I love all of the warm and cozy Christmas movies, books, and music! I can’t wait to read this! I am loving the cover. I want to live there, or at least visit for a long time.

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 2-14-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Holiday Joy
Dear Ms. Thompson,
Happy Valentine’s Day to you! I’m following up our January newsletter with a special greeting as this is,
of course, the month for love. Love for our sweethearts, our family and friends, and for those in need.
As you could see from the newsletter, we put the money our loyal supporters donated to us to good
use. So many families benefited from your generous donation to Christmas from the Heart last year and
I just wanted to remind you that, even though the holidays seem far away they will be here before we
know it. I hope we can count on Hightower Enterprises again this year. We have such a history together.
Let’s keep up the good work!
Warmly,
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 2-14-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Subject: Holiday Joy
Dear Ms. Berg,
Thanks for reaching out. Our fiscal year is just ending and I haven’t yet received word as to how our
charitable donations will be dispersed this year. I will keep you apprised.
Best, Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 2-14-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Holiday Joy
Thank you so much. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-1-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Happy May Day!
Dear Ms. Thompson, just wanted to wish you a happy May Day. The flowers here in Pine River are now
in full bloom, and our organization has been busy helping people make their dreams bloom, as well. As
you know, while our focus is primarily the holidays, Christmas from the Heart tries to help people all
year round when needs arise. Of course, Christmas is our big thrust, and as there is no other
organization working in this area, we are much needed. As are your kind contributions. I still haven’t
heard and I do hope we can count on you.
Warmly,
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
Reaching out again in case my last email went astray. I’m wondering if you have any news for me
regarding Hightower’s involvement with our cause for this coming year.
Thanks!
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg
Subject: Just checking
Ms. Berg, sorry I haven’t been able to get back to you sooner. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. It
appears that the company is going to be scaling back on their charitable giving this year and funds have
already been budgeted for other causes. I’m aware of the fact that in the past we’ve donated to your
organization and I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you. I do wish you all the best in your search for
other funding.
Best,
Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
There must be some sort of misunderstanding! Hightower has always donated to Christmas from the
Heart. The company’s founder, Elias Hightower, was my great-grandmother’s first contributor, and he
promised her that Hightower would always be there for this organization. This is a company tradition!
Please speak to your director.
Hopefully,
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg
Subject: Just checking
I’m sorry. The decision is out of my hands.
Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
Then please tell me who I need to talk to. Who’s your CFO?
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg
Subject: Just checking
Our CFO is Guy Hightower, and his email is ghightower@hightowerenterprises.com
Good luck!
Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Guy Hightower, CFO, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Please reconsider


Dear Mr. Hightower, I understand from your corporate social resources director that Hightower isn’t
planning on making any donation to Christmas from the Heart this year. There must be some mistake!
Surely you’re aware of the long-standing relationship between your company and our organization. I’m sure I can count on you for some small amount.
Best, Olivia Berg


Christmas from the Heart Giving from the heart makes all the difference
Guy Hightower frowned when he saw the email from Olivia Berg in his in-box. Marla Thompson had been forwarding her emails to him, keeping him abreast of Olivia Berg’s varied begging tactics, and had finally even come into his office, trying to dump the load of guilt the woman had laid on her from her shoulders to his.
“Don’t open it,” he told himself. He opened it anyway. Then he read it and swore.
Actually, he’d been swearing ever since meeting with his brothers to discuss the budget back in December. If either of them had listened to him three years ago, they wouldn’t be having to pull the company belt so tight now. This was the problem with being the youngest. It didn’t matter how many degrees you had, how smart you were or what your job title was. Big brothers never listened. Hard to listen when you were going through your third divorce.
That was Mike’s excuse. What was Bryan’s? Oh yeah. He was a wuss. He always agreed with Mike, no matter what. And Mike hadn’t wanted to change directions. Never mind that the company was struggling, keep on doing the same thing. The definition of insanity. Sorry, Little Miss Christmas. Times were tough all over. Hightower had kept its commitment to the more visible causes and turned the little fish loose. And that was how it worked in the corporate world.
He typed his reply.


Dear Ms. Berg, I regret that Hightower can’t help you this year. We’ve had to reassess our commitments to various causes. I’m sure you’ll understand.

Then he signed off with the time-honored adios: Respectfully, Guy Hightower. And if she didn’t understand, well, not his problem. He had his hands full trying to keep the family company afloat. Maybe now Mike would be ready to take his advice and diversify. Olivia Berg—Livi to her family and friends—read the email from Guy Hightower a second time. Yes, the message was the same. Really? Really? Who was this man, Ebenezer Scrooge the Second? She plowed her fingers through her hair, the birthstone ring Morris had given her for her birthday catching in the curls. She was so angry she barely noticed. With a snarl, she began to type. You should be ashamed. Your great-grandfather is probably turning in his grave right now. What’s the matter with you, anyway, you selfish bastard?

She pulled her fingers off the keyboard with a gasp. What was she thinking? Was this any way to get someone to contribute to her cause? And what kind of language was this? Her great-grandmother would be turning in her grave right now, along with Elias. Adelaide Brimwell had been a lady through and through. So had Livi’s grandmother, Olivia, as well as Livi’s mom.
The thought of her mother made her tear up. How she wished Mom was still around to advise her. They’d always planned that Livi would take over running the organization one day, but neither had dreamed that day would come so soon. Her mother’s heart attack had struck like lightning. Livi’s brother had left town, moving to Seattle, which was just far enough south to keep the memories at bay. Livi had stayed put, holding on to every single one, weaving them together into a lifeline to cling to as she kept Christmas from the Heart afloat.
Oh, Mom. What should I do?
Try again came the answer.
Yes, her mother never gave up. She’d chased one potential donor for two years before he finally came through. Livi still remembered the day her mom left the house, clad in a Mrs. Santa costume she’d created—requisite white wig along with a frilly white blouse and a red skirt topped with a red-striped apron. She’d taken with her a batch of home-baked cookies nestled in a red basket and returned home with a check for five hundred dollars. The man had been a loyal contributor ever since. Livi still took him cookies every year. “Persistence pays,” she told herself as she deleted what she’d typed. She started over. I’m asking you to reconsider. Your company is our major donor, and without you so many people will have little joy this Christmas. Any amount you can give will be greatly appreciated. There. He’d have to be a heartless monster not to respond to that. Guy trashed the guilt-inflicting email. What was he, Santa Claus? He had his hands full keeping his company solvent. But then, people like Olivia Berg never considered the fact that a company might have needs of its own. What made them feel so entitled to sit at the edge of the salt mine while a man slaved away and then greet him with their hands out when he emerged broken and bruised? Maybe some of those people always begging for money should get out there and actually earn a living. Let them work their tails off, putting in seventy-hour weeks. Sheesh.
Anyway, the company had already met their good deed quota for the year. The only cause Guy was interested in now was Hightower Enterprises. By the end of the workday, Guy Hightower still hadn’t responded to Livi’s last email. “You are a heartless monster,” she grumbled, glaring at her empty email in-box.
“No word yet?” her part-time assistant, Bettina Thomas, asked as she shut down her computer. Livi sighed and shook her head.
“That is so wrong,” Bettina said in disgust.
It sure was. “They’ve been our major donor ever since my great-grandmother founded Christmas from the Heart. Without their contribution how will we put on the Christmas dinner at the community center? How many families won’t have presents under the tree or Christmas stockings or a Christmas turkey?” There was no Salvation Army in Pine River, no Toys for Tots— none of the usual organizations serviced this area. There had been no need. Christmas from the Heart had it under control. Until now.

“We’ve had to reassess our commitments,” Livi quoted. The words left a bad taste in her mouth and she frowned. “It sounds like something your boyfriend says when he’s dumping you.”
“They are dumping us,” Bettina pointed out. “But don’t worry. We have time. We’ll find someone else to come through.”
“Not like Hightower. There must be something I can do,” Livi mused.
“There is. Go home and eat chocolate.”
And try not to think bad thoughts about Guy Hightower.
In all fairness, he probably didn’t grasp the situation. She’d call him the next day and invite him to come to Pine River for a visit so she could let him see the need, show him a little of what Christmas from the Heart did for the community. She could take him to lunch, introduce him to some of the people in town, put a face—or better yet, several—to Christmas from the Heart. She’d top it all off by following in her mother’s footsteps and baking him cookies. Then how could he help but catch the vision his great-
grandfather and her great-grandmother had shared?
Yes, that would do it. Sometimes you had to be a little patient, give people a second chance.

Excerpted from Christmas From the Heart by Sheila Roberts. Copyright © 2019 by Roberts Ink LLC. Published by MIRA Books.

Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have been published in several languages. Her book, Angel Lane, was an Amazon Top Ten Romance pick for 2009. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her novel, The Nine Lives of Christmas, was made into a movie for Hallmark . You can visit Sheila on Twitter and Facebook or at her website (http://www.sheilasplace.com).

Social Links:

Author website

Facebook: @funwithsheila

Twitter: @_Sheila_Roberts

Instagram: @funwithsheila

Check out these other fun Christmas books that are on tour now from Harlequin!

Meant to Be Yours (Happily Inc., #5) by Susan Mallery – Excerpt and Feature

Publisher: HQN Books

Publication Date: October 22, 2019

Genre: Romance, Contemporary

Amazon

In Happily Inc, love means never having to say “I do”…

Wedding coordinator Renee Grothen isn’t meant for marriage. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, plan. But she never could have planned on gorgeous, talented thriller writer Jasper Dembenski proposing—a fling, that is. Fun without a future. And the attraction between them is too strong for Renee to resist. Now she can have her no-wedding cake…and eat it, too.

After years in the military, Jasper is convinced he’s too damaged for relationships. So a flirtation—and more—with fiery, determined Renee is way too good to pass up…until his flame becomes his muse.

Renee is an expert at averting every crisis. But is she finally ready to leap into the one thing that can never be controlled: love? “

I am SUPER excited to feature Meant to Be Yours by Susan Mallery today on my blog! When I was a teenager, a friend and I had it all planned out that we were going to be wedding planners together. That did not work out but it is still so fun to think about. So when I saw the synopsis for this, I knew I wanted to feature it and hopefully soon read it! Plus that cover is GORGEOUS!

“It might just be okay,” wedding coordinator Renee Grothen murmured softly to herself as she surveyed the wedding reception. She wouldn’t risk admitting everything had turned out as planned until the last guest had left, but four and a half hours in, things were going really well.

Jim and Monica Martinez were a sweet couple with a fun firefighter theme for their big day. There was a long tradition of firefighters on both sides of the family and plenty of cute touches in the wedding and reception.

Monica’s dress laced up the back and instead of white ribbon to cinch her gown, she’d used bright red. The centerpieces were ceramic boot vases painted to look like firefighter boots, filled with red, orange and yellow flowers. There was even a walk-through fountain at one end of the reception area, created with fire hoses, a pump and a lot of engineering.

Renee walked around the perimeter of the indoor reception space, looking for problems. So far, so good, she thought with cautious optimism. The cake had been cut, the bar service was about to end and the tone of the party had faded from raucous to comfortably tired—exactly as it should. With a little luck, things would wrap up on time and without a crisis. This was Monica and Jim’s day—Renee wanted it to be as perfect as possible. While she always took care of her clients, she tended to unleash her mother bear instincts for her special couples and Monica and Jim certainly qualified.

She spotted Pallas Mitchell, her boss, walking toward her. It was nearly ten on a Saturday night and Pallas, a pretty brunette only recently returned from maternity leave, yawned widely. When she spotted Renee she held up her hands, palms up.

“What can I say? I’ve been home with an infant. These wild late-night hours are going to take some getting used to.”

“No one’s judging,” Renee told her. “As I said at seven, at eight and again at nine, go home. I can handle this. You’re barely back and you need to give yourself time to adjust to the schedule.”

“You’ve been running things for nearly six months. You need a break.”

In truth, Renee was a little ragged around the edges, but she’d loved handling Weddings Out of the Box while Pallas had been gone. She’d enjoyed the challenges each unique wedding presented and watching all the details fall into place on the big day.

“I had lots of help,” Renee pointed out. “Hiring college students on summer break was a good idea.” And what they’d lacked in experience, they’d made up for in energy and enthusiasm.

“Now that I’m back, things can return to normal,” Pallas said, covering another yawn.

“Go home,” Renee urged. “Please. I can handle things here. I promise.”

“Okay. I will. Thanks. Don’t you dare come in tomorrow.” Pallas’s voice was firm. “For once, we don’t have a Sunday wedding. Enjoy the break.”

“I will.” Renee would probably pop in to do a little paperwork, but she wouldn’t stay long. “Are you coming to The Boardroom on Monday night?”

In a wedding destination town, the rhythms of the residents were determined by weekend weddings. Happily Inc’s workweek started on Wednesdays as the businesses geared up for the dozens of nuptials that occurred in multiple venues. Which meant the town’s Friday night was actually on Monday.

The Boardroom, a local bar, hosted game nights on Mondays. Board games ruled and tournaments were heated and fun as friends crushed each other at everything from Candy Land to Risk.

Pallas shook her head. “I’ll admit to being a bit of a worrier. When we went a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about Ryan. He’s only five months old. It’s too soon to leave him at night.”

Renee held in a smile. “Sure. I get that.”

“I know you don’t, but thank you for pretending. Have fun for me, too. Oh, Jasper’s back, so tell him hi, if you think of it.”

Jasper was back? Renee hadn’t heard. She liked knowing he’d returned from his big book tour. Not for any reason in particular, she amended hastily. Sure, he was nice, but there were a lot of nice guys in the world. There was just something about Jasper. Maybe it was because in addition to being good-looking and just a little dangerous, he wasn’t a forever kind of guy.

“I saw that!” Pallas grinned. “I totally saw that. You did the predatory smile thing I was never good at. You want to use him for sex! Did I know this?” She stomped her foot. “Did this happen while I was on maternity leave? What else went on while I was off having a baby?”

Renee laughed. “You’re reading way too much into my smile. I’m happy he’s home from his book tour. That’s all.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Jasper and I are not involved. I doubt we’ve had more than a three-sentence conversation.”

Not that it took many sentences to ask Your place or mine? And while the description of predatory was nice, it gave her too much credit. Would she stalk him and pounce? Not even on her best day. Would she say yes if the man asked? She smiled again. Oh, yeah, she would. Definitely. Okay, probably. If she was feeling brave. Because while she worked her butt off to give her couples their perfect happily-ever-after day, she knew it was never going to happen for her. Those who could—did. Those who couldn’t became wedding planners.

Avoiding relationships might be the smart choice, but it was also a lonely one. She knew Jasper was into the long-term, monogamous, not-serious kind of thing and she was pretty sure she could handle that. Assuming she was his type and he was interested. They could have some laughs, lots of sex and walk away completely unscathed in the heart department. Where was the bad?

“There’s something going on and you can’t convince me otherwise,” Pallas said. “You have depths. I’m very impressed. Okay, use Jasper and then tell me the details because hey, he’s got to be great.” She yawned again. “I’m such a lightweight. I’m leaving now.”

“Good night. Hug Ryan for me.”

“You know I will.”

Pallas walked out of the reception hall. Renee continued to circle the space, looking for any forgotten handbags or phones, and noting how long it would take the cleaning service to return the huge room to order. Doing her job and not thinking about the fact that Jasper was back—that was her.

A loud whoop got her attention. She turned and saw three teenaged guys running through the fountain at the far end of the big, open room. Each of them jumped, trying to touch the arc of water dancing overhead.

The younger brother, she thought as she made her way toward them. And his friends. No doubt they were bored after so many hours with not very much to do. Regardless, she was not going to have them disrupt the reception when it was so close to being over.

As she approached the running, jumping teens, she saw both sets of parents, along with the bride and groom, still dancing. They swayed in time with the music, oblivious to the fountain and the idiots messing with it. Then several things happened at once.

The younger brother started an extra long run toward the fountain. Jim let go of Monica and spun her out the length of their arms. Monica bumped her mom, who stumbled a little. Dad grabbed Mom, moving all of them closer to the fountain and the younger brother running, who had to swerve suddenly to avoid them. As he swerved, he lost his balance and slipped, tumbling into the fountain mechanism. One of the hoses broke free, wiggling and spraying water everywhere.

Renee saw it all happening and knew there was no way she was going to allow her beautiful bride to get soaked. She lunged for the hose, caught it and held it tightly against her chest as the bride’s father rushed to turn off the water to the hose. It took only seconds, but by then the entire fountain had spilled over and Renee was drenched, shivering and had water up her nose even as she wondered if she looked half as ridiculous as she felt.

The new Mrs. Martinez hurried over. “Renee, are you all right?” She turned on her brother. “How could you? This is a wedding, not a water park.”

Aware that end-of-wedding exhaustion could easily lead to emotions spiraling out of control, Renee quickly faked a smile.

“Monica, it’s fine. Don’t worry. Keeping you and the rest of the wedding party dry was my only concern.” She glanced at the water draining onto the floor and realized part of the fountain was still pumping out water. That couldn’t be good. If she couldn’t get everything turned off, she was going to have to call in one of those companies that took care of disasters like flooding. “Really. It’s no problem.”

“You’re dripping and the water’s rising. My dad went to find the main shutoff.”

Renee wrung out her hair and hoped her makeup wasn’t too badly smudged. Then she realized the water level in the reception hall was indeed climbing and hoped Monica’s father found the shutoff soon.

She was just about to go help him when he returned.

“All turned off.” He glanced at the mini flood. “Sorry about this.”

“It’s fine,” Renee lied, her tone soothing, because that was part of her job. To pretend all was well even when they needed to be figuring out how to build an ark.

The rest of the guests were heading out. Nothing like the threat of an unexpected flood to get people moving, she thought, trying to find the humor in the situation.

“I’m so sorry,” Monica told her as she held her dress out of the water and slipped out of her shoes.

“Don’t be. You had a wonderful wedding and reception. Why don’t you and Jim start gathering your things? I have a spare set of clothes in my office. I’ll get changed, then help you make sure you have everything.”

As she spoke, she noticed the water seemed to have settled at about the six- or seven-inch level. Yup, she was going to have to call someone. No doubt she would be here all night. Oh, joy.

“I’m really sorry,” Jim said. “We thought we’d planned for every contingency.” He glared at his new brother-in-law. “Except for stupid.” He turned back to her. “Let us know the cost of cleanup. We’ll pay for it.”

“Thank you. I think the deposit should take care of it but I’ll let you know if there’s a problem. Now if you’ll let me go get changed, I’ll be back with you in ten minutes.”

Monica nodded.

Renee slipped out of her shoes and walked through the ankle-deep water. When she reached her office upstairs, she carefully closed the door behind her before undressing, then slipped on jeans and a T-shirt. Not exactly professional, but she wasn’t going to worry about that right now. Before she returned to her bride and groom, she looked up the local disaster cleaning service. The number was in her files, but wasn’t one she had had to use before.

They picked up on the first ring.

“Happily Inc CleanUp. This is Hilde. How can I help you?”

“Hi. I’m Renee Grothen at Weddings Out of the Box. We had a firefighter wedding tonight with a big fountain. There was an accident with one of the hoses and now our main reception hall is flooded.”

There was a pause. “Um, did you say firefighter wedding? Never mind. How much water?”

“About six inches.”

“That’s a lot.”

“It was a big fountain.”

“Give us thirty minutes and we’ll be there.”

“Thank you.”

Renee hung up, gave herself a second to catch her breath, then headed back to deal with the bride, the groom, the flood and anything else that might happen tonight. Because with a wedding, it was always something.

Excerpted from Meant to be Yours by Susan Mallery, Copyright © 2019 by Susan Mallery, Inc.. Published by HQN Books.

SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women’s lives—family, friendship, romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations,” and
readers seem to agree—40 million copies of her books have sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live. Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She’s passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as mom.

The Beginner’s Guide to Winning an Election by Michael R. French – Feature

Publisher: Moot Point Productions

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

Genre: YA, Fiction

Amazon

I am very excited to be on a feature tour for The Beginner’s Guide to Winning an Election by Michael R. French! Thank you so much to the author and TLC Book Tours for the free copy! And I have a giveaway running on my Instagram!

This sounds like a good read for any young teen to start to get into politics. It is really important for them to start learning about how the system works and how they are going to vote on the issues at hand.

” Brit Kitridge’s plan was just to get her high school diploma and head to college and med school, but nobody can escape from fate, or is it history? The Beginner’s Guide To Winning an Election reveals our main character’s love for history, and after a summer reading books that fuel her passion for politics, Brit decides to join TM (Team Mathew), a fourteen-member group that has helped Mathew Boltanski win every election he’s ever entered. Now he’s going for the big one—student body president. By orchestrating brilliant campaigns one after the other, TM has made Matthew a national young star and promising politician who could even run for higher office in Washington. When Brit is accused of sabotaging the team, she realizes that Hawthorn High has its secrets, and someone needs to shed some light on them. The story is set in a world six years ahead of our time. Security is a constant issue. Politics isn’t black-and-white, it’s not even gray anymore. Inflation is out of control and the educational system is in crisis. But what happens when you find out what’s really going on? What do you do with secrets no one but you wants to hold up to the light?”

National best selling author Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is an avid high-altitude mountain trekker, world traveler to developing countries, and is a collector of first editions of twentieth-century fiction.

He has published twenty two books, including fiction, young adult fiction, biographies, and art criticism. His novel, Abingdon’s, was a bestseller and a Literary Guild Alternate Selection. His young adult novel, Pursuit, was awarded the California Young Reader Medal.

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